Green Bay Packers vs. Atlanta Falcons: All Things Must Pass

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One of my favorite all-time albums was recorded by George Harrison when he put out All Things Must Pass in 1970.

That album title might also describe how the Sunday afternoon game between the 4-2 Green Bay Packers and the 4-3 Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome will be played.

I know I expect to see the football in the air quite often. Las Vegas sees the same thing. Sportsbook.com has the over/under at 53, which is tops in the NFL this week. I’m definitely leaning towards the over.

There are many reasons why.

For one thing, the Falcons have the No. 1 offense in the NFL, as they have averaged just over 433 yards per game. A lot of that yardage has come through the air, as Atlanta is second in the league in passing offense, as the Dirty Birds, led by Matt Ryan, have thrown for 319 yards per game.

Ryan is having a NFL MVP season individually, as he has thrown 16 touchdown passes versus four interceptions for a NFL-leading 2,348 yards. That adds up to a 113.6 passer rating.

The biggest recipient of Ryan’s throws is wide receiver Julio Jones. No. 11 is having a monster year in 2016. Jones leads the NFL with 830 receiving yards, which averages out to a whopping 20.8 yards per reception.

Jones has 40 catches and four touchdowns, plus has five receptions of over 40 yards already this season.

This does not bode well for a Green Bay secondary which will be without their top three cornerbacks on Sunday. Somehow, defensive coordinator Dom Capers will have to figure out a way to try and keep Jones from having a big game.

That’s easier said than done. The last time the Falcons and Packers met was in 2014 at Lambeau Field, when Green Bay won 43-37. Jones had 11 receptions for 259 yards and a touchdown in that game.

I expect the Packers to double-up on Jones on just about every play. That still might not work, as that strategy is used by every defense in the NFL when they go up against the Falcons with very little success.

Also, Ryan generally plays well when he matches up against the Packers. In five regular season games when he was 2-3 versus the Pack, No. 2 has thrown 10 touchdown passes versus five picks for 1,139 yards. That adds up to a 92. 7 passer rating.

Ryan did not fare as well in a 2010 NFC Divisional Playoff game versus the Packers at the Georgia Dome, when the Packers prevailed 48-21. Matty Ice threw for only 186 yards in that game and threw one touchdown pass versus two interceptions (including a pick-six). That added up to a passer rating of 69.0.

On the other side of the ball, after struggling most of the year in the overall passing game, the aerial offense of the Packers seems to be back on track. Unlike the quick strike capability of the Falcons however, the Packers have been utilizing a dink and dunk type of passing game.

It’s almost an old school west coast offense approach in the passing game, plus the strategy eats up a lot of clock when it’s efficient.

Before the Packers played the Chicago Bears a week ago Thursday night, many skeptics were questioning the play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Packers.

But in that game, due to the fact that both Eddie Lacy (ankle-IR) and James Starks (knee) would not be able to play at running back, the Packers leaned heavily on their passing game.

Rodgers attempted 56 passes and completed 39 for 326 yards. No. 12 also threw three touchdown passes without throwing a pick. The passer rating for Rodgers in that game was 102.2.

For the season, Rodgers has similar statistics to Ryan, except for a big difference in yards passing. No. 12 has thrown 13 touchdown passes versus four interceptions for 1,496 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 91. 7.

Rodgers always plays well against the Falcons. In four regular season games against Atlanta, where he is 2-2, Rodgers has thrown nine touchdown passes versus only one pick for 1,380 yards. That adds up to a 116.0 passer rating.

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Plus in that 2010 NFC Divisional Playoff game at the Georgia Dome, Rodgers had probably the best game of his career against the Falcons. Rodgers completed 31-of-36 passes for 366 yards. No. 12 threw three touchdown passes without a pick, plus scored a rushing touchdown as well.

No. 12’s passer rating in that game was a whopping 136.8.

Against da Bears, Rodgers had three receivers (Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and Ty Montgomery) catch at least 10 passes in that game. It was shocking to many that Jordy Nelson was not part of that group.

No. 87 historically plays well against Atlanta, as he has 21 receptions and three touchdowns in five regular season games. In the postseason game against the Dirty Birds, Nelson had eight catches for 79 yards and a touchdown.

In this upcoming game this Sunday afternoon, although the Packers are really banged up at the cornerback position, the team is still ranked 15th in passing defense, which isn’t bad considering Sam Shields (concussion-IR), Damarious Randall (groin) and Quinten Rollins (groin) have been absent from the field more often than not lately.

The Packers secondary has given up 10 touchdown passes, but have also picked off five passes. The opposing quarterbacks have a 91.4 passer rating against the Pack.

The Falcons are ranked 31st in passing defense, so that is where I expect Rodgers to do some damage. No. 12 really doesn’t have a choice, as Lacy won’t be available until Week 15, if at all, while Starks will be out at least another week.

That means that Montgomery will get some carries as a running back, plus Knile Davis might also get some touches this week after getting another week of practice with the Packers after coming to the team via a trade a couple weeks back.

Atlanta has given up 15 touchdown passes this season already, while also picking off six passes. The opposing quarterbacks have had a 96.9 passer rating against the Dirty Birds.

Bottom line, expect to see the ball in the air quite often on Sunday afternoon in Atlanta in what should be a very entertaining game. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ryan and Rodgers throw the football a combined 80 to 100 times in this contest.

A Scout’s Take on the Nebraska vs. Wisconsin B1G West Matchup

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On Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, the 5-2 and 11th-ranked (both polls) Wisconsin Badgers will be taking on their fifth top 10-ranked opponent this season, as they will host the 7-0 Nebraska Cornhuskers, who are ranked No. 7 by the Associated Press and No. 6 by the Coaches poll.

The Badgers have split the four games that they have played against top 10-ranked opponents so far this year. Wisconsin beat LSU (16-14) and Michigan State (30-6), but narrowly lost to both Michigan (14-7) and Ohio State (30-23 in OT).

Last week, before the Badgers traveled to Iowa and beat the Hawkeyes 17-9, I asked NFL scout Chris Landry about whether or not Wisconsin could run the table for the rest of their schedule and win the B1G West.

“I think now that they are getting into the meat of their schedule,” Landry said. “They  have obviously played the two toughest teams [Michigan and Ohio State] already. I think they will fare pretty well.

“I think one of the best coaching jobs done all year has been done by Paul Chryst. They don’t have the playmakers on offense, but they are finding a way to get it done. They have to be careful this week against Iowa and then Nebraska. That will determine it.

“They’ll beat Northwester, Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota. But these next two weeks are going to determine it. Ohio State and Michigan, no issue there losing to those two teams, that are better than them, but as you mentioned, they [Wisconsin] played very well.

“I think these next two weeks at Iowa and then Nebraska at home will tell the story obviously in the [B1G] West. That will determine who will win it. But I like them. I think this defense is really good. Their linebackers are very long and athletic and are playing well.”

The game between the Badgers and Huskers looks to be a defensive battle. Wisconsin is ranked No. 9 in total defense, while Nebraska is ranked No. 22 in total defense.

The Badgers will be without one of their best defensive players for the rest of the season though, as inside linebacker Jack Cichy tore a pectoral muscle against Iowa last week.

Cichy will be tough to replace, as he led Wisconsin in tackles (60), forced fumbles (two) and was second in tackles for a loss (7½).

The two players who will be called on to play in place of Cichy are Ryan Connelly and Leon Jacobs.

The other inside linebacker is T.J. Edwards, who is second on the team with 44 tackles.

As good as the Badgers have been on the inside at linebacker, T.J. Watt has excelled at outside linebacker (seven sacks) this season, plus his talented bookend at the other OLB spot, Vince Biegel, returned last week against Iowa after missing a couple of games due to a broken foot.

The Wisconsin defense will be attempting to contain quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who has thrown 11 touchdown passes versus five interceptions for 1,611 yards.

Armstrong also leads the Huskers in rushing with 380 yards and six touchdowns.

Alex Hornibrook (5-6-877) will start at quarterback for the Badgers, but Bart Houston (3-2-586) will also get some snaps.

Running back Corey Clement leads the Badgers in rushing with 617 yards and six touchdowns, while Jazz Peavy  leads Wisconsin in receiving with 24 catches for 383 yards and three scores.

Peavy has also run for 127 yards when the Badgers utilize the jet sweep.

I didn’t have an opportunity to talk with Landry this week, but I did check out his scouting preview of the Nebraska-Wisconsin matchup on his great website.

This is how Landry sees this game:

The defensive front might not be full of household superstars, but it’s been one of the biggest keys to the season. Expected to be a major weakness, considering the key personnel losses and the lack of depth, the Husker D line has been terrific, especially against the run. The Oregon attack might have worked, but the front seven has been eating up just about everything else, with no one other than the Ducks taking off for more than 140 yards on the ground. Oregon ran for five scores, but even though the Huskers faced Wyoming’s Brian Hill, Indiana’s Devine Redding, and Northwestern’s Justin Jackson, they’ve only allowed four touchdown runs in the other six games.

Offensively, Tommy Armstrong continues to be solid. He might not be spectacular, but he’s been a rock throwing for 200 yards or more in every game but the opener against Fresno State – he wasn’t needed – while still doing a nice job of taking off when needed.

But he’s not going to run much against this Badger front seven – running quarterbacks don’t fly against the group. However, as Michigan showed, you beat Wisconsin by going vertical and testing the secondary time and again to open up everything else.

There’s a good chance that top target Jordan Westerkamp will be back after missing the last two games with a back problem. If he’s okay, all of a sudden the Huskers have their all-star home run hitter back after averaging close to 18 yards per catch over the first five games.

Nebraska’s offense is okay, but it’s just not good enough.
Even with Westerkamp back, this isn’t an explosive attack, playing right into Wisconsin’s hands.

The line is doing a solid job overall, and the running game has been effective, but the team lives on keeping the chains moving and controlling the time of possession and tempo. That’s not going to happen against this defense.

The Badger D is out of this world on third downs, allowing offenses to convert just 25% of their chances. The only offense to hit more than 31% of their tries was Ohio State, and it struggled way too much throughout the first half. Nebraska won’t get enough manageable third down situations and should have to press.

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T.J. Watt

Defensively, yeah, the Huskers have been terrific against the run, but this is a different Wisconsin offense after the week off before the Ohio State game. All of a sudden, Corey Clement is looking a half-step quicker and a whole lot stronger in a workhorse mode, carrying the ball 70 times for 298 yards and a score – and almost another, before he fumbled the ball against Iowa reaching out for the goal line – over the last two weeks.

Can the Badgers close this game out. They got away with missed kicks and mistakes inside the red zone, while Nebraska defense has done a solid job when its back is against the wall – it’s red zone D has been good enough.

This is the type of Husker team that seems to know how to figure it out. It was able to rev it up in a shootout against Oregon, and it was able to grind it down in wins over Northwestern and Indiana. It’s good enough to keep this close, but it’ll stall on too many key drives.

Wisconsin will get the win after the defense clamps down in the second half, but both teams will run the clock and each offense should be relatively error free.

This should be a good, hard-nosed Big Ten game with the Badgers finally breathing easily in the fourth quarter, setting up a showdown for the West title at Northwestern next week.
———————–Wisconsin 27, Nebraska 17————————-

Jerry Kramer Talks About Gale Gillingham

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Left guard Gale Gillingham (No. 68) leads the way for Donny Anderson (No. 44) in Super Bowl II vs. the Oakland Raiders.

From 1959 through 1966, the Green Bay Packers had the best set of guards in the NFL with right guard Jerry Kramer and left guard Fuzzy Thurston leading the way.

Kramer was drafted by the Packers in the fourth round of the 1958 NFL draft, while Thurston was acquired in one of the first trades head coach and general manager Vince Lombardi ever made in 1959.

The duo of Kramer and Thurston became a very effective combination, especially blocking on the the signature play of the Packers…the power sweep.

Kramer and Thurston were recognized for their outstanding play as well.

Kramer was named first-team All-Pro in 1960 by The Associated Press. Thurston received that same honor in 1961 plus was named first-team All-Pro by UPI (United Press International) and NEA (Newspaper Enterprise Association).

Kramer was named first-team All-Pro by AP, UPI and NEA in 1962, while Thurston was named first-team All-Pro by UPI and was also named second-team by AP that season.

In 1963, Kramer was named first-team All-Pro by AP, UPI, NEA and NY (New York Daily News), while Thurston was named second-team All-Pro by UPI.

In 1964, Kramer missed most of the season with an intestinal ailment which saw him undergo nine medical procedures before the situation was finally resolved.  Meanwhile, Thurston was named second-team All-Pro by NY.

In 1965, Kramer was able to get back in the starting lineup lineup after a few games after arduous rehab, while Thurston was also fighting some injury issues that year. Neither player was recognized for their play that season.

In 1966, Kramer was once again named first-team All-Pro by AP, UPI, NY and FW (Pro Football Writers Association), while Thurston was named second-team All-Pro by NY.

During that time, the Packers won four NFL titles and the very first Super Bowl.

Thurston loved to tell anyone who would listen, “There are two good reasons the Packers are world champions. Jerry Kramer is one of them, and you’re looking at the other one.”

But in 1967, Thurston hurt his knee in a scrimmage early in training camp and was replaced by a strapping young guard by the name of Gale Gillingham. The former Minnesota Gopher was in his second year with the Packers that season after being drafted in the first round of the 1966 NFL draft.

I talked with Kramer recently and he talked to me about Thurston and how he worked with Gillingham.

“Fuzzy sat besides Gilly for the rest of the ’67 season, ” Kramer said. “He coached Gilly. They sat together in every film session. Fuzzy gave him the benefit of everything he had learned about the defensive tackle that Gilly would be facing that given week.

“Fuzzy told Gilly what he liked to do against that tackle and told Gilly that he should think about doing the same thing. Basically, Fuzzy was Gilly’s personal coach.”

In the 1967 season, Kramer was named first-team All-Pro by AP, UPI and NY. Gillingham had taken over for Thurston and never looked back, as the Packers won their third straight NFL title, along with their second straight Super Bowl win.

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Gale Gillingham blocks Dick Butkus of the Chicago Bears.

Kramer talked about how Gillingham fit in for the Packers that season.

“I really enjoyed Gilly,” Kramer said. “He was a good kid. He was a hard-working kid. He was not a smart ass and he listened to you. He was respectful and really was a wonderful kid.

“Gilly was also a hell of a ballplayer with great size and speed. I remember Forrest [Gregg] and I would always win our offensive line sprints all the time until Gilly became a starter. We just couldn’t beat Gilly in our races, even when we tried to cheat a little bit.

“Finally, Forrest looked at me one day and said, ‘We might as well give up Jerry. We ain’t going to beat him.’

By 1968, Thurston had retired and Kramer and Gillingham were the tandem at guard for the Packers. The Packers had a disappointing season, finishing 6-7-1, but Kramer was named second-team All-Pro by AP, while Gillingham was named second-team All-Pro by UPI and NEA.

After the 1968 season, Kramer had retired and Gillingham moved over to right guard. No. 68 became one of the best players at his position for the next several years.

In 1969 and 1970, Gillingham was named first-team All-Pro by both AP and NEA.

In 1971, Gillingham was named first-team All-Pro by NEA, which was also the first season that Dan Devine was the head coach of the Packers.

Speaking of Devine, a few months ago I wrote a story about his miscalculations at the quarterback position during his tenure in Green Bay.

As bad as those decisions were at quarterback by Devine, the worst decision he ever made was moving Gillingham to defensive tackle for the 1972 season.

It made very little sense. Yes, Gillingham had played a little defensive tackle in college for Minnesota, but at the time Devine made the move, Gilly was probably the best right guard in the NFL.

And because the team was lead by second-year quarterback Scott Hunter in 1972, the team would have to to depend on the running game to be successful on offense. John Brockington and MacArthur Lane combined for almost 2,000 years rushing that season, but just imagine their amount of success with Gillingham at right guard.

Instead, Gillingham injured his knee early in the ’72 season playing defensive tackle and would miss the rest of the campaign that year.

Kramer talked about that decision by Devine.

“That was stupid,” Kramer said. “That really was a stupid move. That’s the only thing I can say about that. It just boggles your mind taking a kid of that caliber and quality and then move him to a whole new position. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

By 1973, Devine’s thought-process became much clearer and he moved Gillingham back to right guard. Gillingham was named second-team All-Pro by FW that season and in 1974 was named first-team All-Pro by NEA.

Also in ’74, Gillingham was named to play in the Pro Bowl, which was the fifth time he had been named to that squad.

In 1975, which was Bart Starr’s first year as head coach of the Packers, Gillingham sat out the season, as he didn’t want to play under offensive line coach Leon McLaughlin.

Gillingham talked about that situation in an article written by Martin Hendricks of Packer Plus in August of 2011.

“I had no faith in the line coach and didn’t fit into the system,” Gillingham said. said. “I wanted to be traded.”

Gillingham did return to play in 1976 under McLaughlin and Starr, but after a 5-9 season, No. 68 decided that he was done playing football in the NFL and he retired.

The losses finally caught up with Gillingham. From 1968 through 1976, the Packers were just 54-67-5 with just two winning seasons.

“The losing killed me,” said Gillingham. “I was burned out and beat up both mentally and physically.”

Tragically, just a few months after the article by Hendricks was written, Gillingham died of a heart attack at his home in Minnesota while lifting weights. Gillingham was just 67 years-old.

Gillingham was inducted in the Packers Hall of Fame in 1982.

Anyone who has ever read my stories over the past decade or so, know that I have been a huge proponent of Kramer getting his rightful induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The same holds true about Gillingham.

Had Devine not made that colossal mistake of moving Gillingham to defensive tackle in 1972, there is no doubt that Gillingham would have received more All-Pro honors that season at guard and he may have eventually been named All-Decade in the 1970s at right guard.

Kramer received that same honor in the 1960s, plus in 1969 was named to the NFL’s 50th anniversary team by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Kramer is the only member of that prestigious team not in Canton.

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Gale Gillingham looks on in the background as Jerry Kramer and Forrest Gregg hoist head coach Vince Lombardi after winning Super Bowl II.

Kramer talked about what made Gillingham such a great offensive guard.

“He was a bright kid,” Kramer said. “He would listen. He would also learn quickly when you taught him something. Gilly had no arrogance about him and he wasn’t afraid to learn. He had the drive, the emotion, the push, the need, the want, the fire and the whole thing there.

“He had great size, strength and speed. Gilly had all the components. Plus, he was willing to learn, which made him an even better player. Gilly was also a very polite kid.

“Gilly fit in with Fuzzy and I like we were three brothers. We looked after him and he looked after us and it was just a wonderful relationship. There was an admiration and love for him, just like he was family.

“That kind of thing permeated on our team under Coach Lombardi with the players. You had that respect and love for the players because they would perform when it counted. Players like Gilly definitely made a positive impact on our team and he certainly played well when it was crunch time.”

A Scout’s Take on Wisconsin’s Chances of Winning the B1G West

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The 4-2 Wisconsin Badgers have definitely proven that they can play with the big boys. The 10th-ranked Badgers have played four teams in the top 10 already this year. Wisconsin defeated LSU and Michigan State earlier this season, but lost a couple of very hard-fought games against Michigan in Ann Arbor and Ohio State in Madison in their last two contests .

The Badgers had an opportunity to win both of those games, but in both cases it was a case of close, but no cigar.

But both polls saw enough from the Badgers to keep the team in the top 10 in the rankings.

The Badgers have one of the best defenses in the country (ranked No. 12 in total defense), plus the offense took a big step forward last week against a very tough Ohio State defense (ranked No. 6 in total defense).

The running game got untracked, led by Corey Clement, who rushed for 164 yards, plus the offense as a whole had 450 total yards.

The Badgers are 1-2 in the B1G West, but still have a chance to run the table and represent the division in the B1G Championship Game.

But the road won’t be easy, as the Badgers first have to face the 5-2 Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium this Saturday, and then host the 6-0 and No. 8 Nebraska Cornhuskers at Camp Randall Stadium the following week.

If the Badgers can somehow get by those two teams, Wisconsin would then have two road games against Northwestern and Purdue, while hosting two games against Illinois and Minnesota.

That’s a tough road to hoe, but the Badgers have proven that they are certainly up to the challenge, especially based on the past two weeks when they went toe to toe with both the Wolverines and Buckeyes.

I wanted to get an opinion on whether that goal of winning the B1G West was a doable goal for the Badgers by talking with NFL scout Chris Landry.

I had an opportunity to speak with Landry on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig show on Wednesday.

“I think now that they are getting into the meat of their schedule,” Landry said. “They  have obviously played the two toughest teams [Michigan and Ohio State] already. I think they will fare pretty well.

“I think one of the best coaching jobs done all year has been done by Paul Chryst. They don’t have the playmakers on offense, but they are finding a way to get it done. They have to be careful this week against Iowa and then Nebraska. That will determine it.

“They’ll beat Northwester, Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota. But these next two weeks are going to determine it. Ohio State and Michigan, no issue there losing to those two teams, that are better than them, but as you mentioned, they [Wisconsin] played very well.

“I think these next two weeks at Iowa and then Nebraska at home will tell the story obviously in the [B1G] West. That will determine who will win it. But I like them. I think this defense is really good. Their linebackers are very long and athletic and are playing well.

“I think they carved up a phenomenal offensive game plan, getting guys open, devoid of playmakers against a very good Ohio State defense. Just hope that there is no let down. If not, I like their chances to win those two and maybe end up representing the West playing either Ohio State or Michigan, although I think it will be Ohio State, in the B1G Championship Game.”

Green Bay Packers: Jerry Kramer Talks About Playing da Bears

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George Halas and Vince Lombardi

Playing the Chicago Bears was always special for Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi. Not just because the storied rivalry started way back in 1921, but because Lombardi was personally endorsed by George Halas for the head coaching job in Green Bay.

So it was very apropos that Lombardi’s first game as head coach was against the Bears at new City Stadium (now Lambeau Field) on September 27, 1959.

The Packers rallied from a 6-0 fourth-quarter deficit in that game and won the contest 9-6. Lombardi was carried off the field by his players after the victory. That was a habit which was duplicated at least four more times in Lombardi’s tenure.

The last time that occurred was after the 33-14 victory over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II, when Forrest Gregg and Jerry Kramer hoisted up Lombardi in his final game as head coach of the Pack.

I talked with Kramer on Wednesday and he related a couple of instances about how Lombardi was focused on Halas when a game against the Bears was approaching.

For example, Lombardi was always worried that Halas would use spies to check out the practices of the Packers.

“We would be practicing and Coach would see a lineman on a power pole a couple of blocks away doing electrical work,”Kramer said. “And Coach would go, ‘There’s one of Halas’ spies! Somebody go down there and check out that guy!’

Lombardi also had other tactics to help hinder any spy tactics of Halas.

“At practice, Bart would wear No. 75 at times,” Kramer said chuckling. “We would change our numbers and everyone would wear a different number to confuse the spies of the Bears. Like Halas was going to think an offensive tackle is playing quarterback for us.”

Lombardi was always primed to play the Bears and he let his team know about as well.

“We were practicing on day before playing the Bears and Coach Lombardi brought us together,” Kramer said. “Coach said, ‘You guys go out and kick the Bears’ ass. And I’ll go out and kick old man Halas’ ass too.’

Kramer also remembered a quote from Halas talking about when the Bears played the Packers.

“Coach Halas said, ‘We knew what they [the Packers] were going to do. We knew where they were going to do it and we knew when they were going to do it. We just couldn’t do anything about it.”

Even with all the various techniques Lombardi would use to stop the flow of information to Bears about the Packers, Halas still had a way to get vital data regarding his rival to the north.

“When I played in the Pro Bowl after the 1967 season, Coach Halas was coaching the team and we we late coming in from Florida after our Super Bowl win,” Kramer said. “There were nine of us and Coach Halas had a bus saved for us to go to practice.

“So I get on the bus and Coach Halas is sitting right behind the driver and he hands me a playbook. I go back about four seats on the opposite side of the bus near the aisle. So I start looking at the playbook and I see the first play is red right 49, which is our play, our code, our number system and our blocking.

“So I flip the page and I see red right 48, 46, 44, 42, 40 and so on. I look up at Coach Halas looking stunned with my mouth hanging open and he’s checking out at my reaction. “Halas said, ‘Jerry, we didn’t want you Green Bay boys to get behind so we just put in your offense.’

“The old fart had it exactly right. The numbers, the colors, the blocking assignments and the variations of the blocking assignments. He knew exactly what our playbook was.”

But even with all that, Lombardi and his Packers had a 13-5 record in the nine years he coached in Green Bay over Halas and his Bears.

The Packers also won five NFL titles in seven years in the 1960s, plus won the first two Super Bowls, while Halas and the Bears won the 1963 NFL title.

The quarterback of those five championship teams of the Packers and the MVP of both Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II, was Bart Starr.

In an earlier conversation that I had with Kramer, he talked about a game which let the team know that Starr was truly their leader.

bart-vs-da-bears

“We were playing the Chicago Bears,” Kramer said. “Bill George was their middle linebacker at the time. On a deep pass attempt, George thought he would try to intimidate Bart.

“Bill took about a five-yard run and he gave Bart a forearm right in the mouth. George timed it perfectly and put Bart right on his behind. He also cut Bart badly, from his lip all the way to his nose. After that, George said, ‘That ought to take care of you Starr, you pu**y.’ Bart snapped right back at George and said, ‘F— you, Bill George, we’re coming after you.’

“My jaw dropped after that exchange, as I was shocked. Meanwhile Bart was bleeding profusely. I told Bart that he better go to the sideline and get sewn up. Bart replied, ‘Shut up and get in the huddle.’

“Bart took us down the field in seven or eight plays and we scored. That series of plays really solidified Bart as our leader and we never looked back.”

It’s that type toughness and resiliency that the current 3-2 Green Bay team needs to have as they get set to play the 1-5 Bears on Thursday night at Lambeau Field on national television.

The Packers did not play well at all this past Sunday, when they lost to the Dallas Cowboys 30-16 at Lambeau Field.

Kramer was at the game, as he sat in a box with Brett Favre, Frank Winters, Antonio Freeman and LeRoy Butler.

“The Packers were chaotic and inconsistent,” Kramer said. “It was not a good showing at all.”

Going into the game against the Bears, the Packers have a number of issues. For one, the the team is dealing with a number of injuries. Which includes their top two running backs, as Eddie Lacy (ankle) and James Starks (knee) won’t be available to play and will be out for several weeks.

In fact, Lacy will be out until at least Week 15, after he was placed on injured reserve after it was determined he needs surgery on his ankle.

The Packers traded a 2018 conditional seventh-round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs for running back Knile Davis on Tuesday. Also, rookie running back Don Jackson was promoted from the practice squad to replace the roster spot of Lacy.

Kramer knows all about not being able to play with your best running backs. In 1967, the Packers went into the season for the first time in a decade without Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor in the backfield, as Hornung retired and Taylor moved on as a free agent.

In addition to that, both starting running backs, Elijah Pitts and Jim Grabowski, suffered season-ending injuries in Week 8 versus the Baltimore Colts.

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Running back Travis Williams tries to elude linebacker Dick Butkus

The Packers didn’t flinch, as backs like Donny Anderson, Travis Williams, Ben Wilson and Chuck Mercein filled in and helped the Packers finish second in the NFL in rushing that season.

Another problem that the current Packers are having is that the passing offense of the team is not in sync. Aaron Rodgers has been in a year-long slump, at least based on the superlative passing numbers he put up from 2009 through 2014.

The receivers are having trouble getting open, even with the return of Jordy Nelson, and when they are open, Rodgers is missing them at times.

Again, Kramer has dealt with this before, as the offense of the Lombardi Packers had to transform itself over the years.

From 1960 through 1964, the Packers relied on the running game to be the focal point of their offense. In those five years, the Packers were either first or second in the league in rushing.

But in 1965, the running game started having some issues. The Packers were just 10th in the NFL in rushing that season. Ironically, the running game came alive when the team needed it the most that season.

The Packers would be playing for the 1965 NFL title versus the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field.

And although the running game of the Packers had struggled almost the entire year, the Packers could not be stopped on this snowy and muddy day on the frozen tundra.

Green Bay rushed for 204 yards behind Taylor and  Hornung, as the Pack won 23-12. The power sweep was especially effective, as Kramer and left guard Fuzzy Thurston kept opening big holes for the backs, mowing down defenders so the Packers gained big chunks of yardage on the ground.

The Packers won three straight NFL titles starting that season. In 1965 and 1966, the Packers became more of a passing offense. Starr was magnificent, as he threw 30 touchdown passes versus 12 interceptions in those two years.

Starr was also named the NFL MVP in 1966.

In 1967, Starr had a number of injuries which affected his play. Because of that, Lombardi leaned more on the running game again and another NFL title was the result.

The current Packers need to change their offensive tendencies like Lombardi did back in the day. Instead of running simply isolation pass patterns, perhaps they can try a few bunch-formation pass patterns, which usually allows receivers to get open a bit more easily.

Plus, go back to the basics of the west coast offense. Use quick-hitting pass patterns like slants and short curls.

The bottom line, the Packers have to find a way to get through all their issues and injuries and beat their most hated rival. With a win, the Packers be within a game of tying the all-time series between the two teams.

Right now the Packers are 91-93-6 in the regular season and 1-1 in the postseason versus the Bears. By winning on Thursday night and again in Week 15 in Chicago at Soldier Field, the Packers will even up the series for the first time since 1933, when the two teams were knotted at 11-11-4.

The Packers have been the dominant team in the past quarter century when the two teams played. A lot of that has been due to great quarterback play. In the 24 years that Favre and Rodgers have been under center for the team, the Packers have a 34-14 record versus da Bears.

Rodgers has been phenomenal for the most part in his career against Chicago. Not only did he beat them in the 2010 NFC title game at Soldier Field, but he’s 12-4 in the regular season as well.

In those 16 games, Rodgers has thrown 35 touchdown passes versus just nine picks for 3,839 yards. That adds up to a very robust passer rating of 107.3.

The Packers need more of the same from Rodgers on Thursday night. Head coach Mike McCarthy can help by changing his offensive scheme a bit, as his offensive inclinations are being diagnosed by the opponents.

The struggles of Rodgers and the offense over the past year or so validate that point.

Kramer knows what the Packers need to do versus da Bears.

“Just do what Coach Lombardi always instructed us to do to meet our challenges,” Kramer said. “Coach told us that we had to be tenacious, we had to be committed and that we had to be disciplined.

“We listened and followed his directions and we focused on the job at hand. That led us to all those championships, including the three straight NFL titles.”

The job at hand for the current Packers is beating the Bears on Thursday night. Not just winning, but also improving all facets of the football team with their play.

Green Bay Packers: The Play in the Trenches Has Been Stellar

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Going into the 2016 NFL season, looking at the units on both the offensive and defensive lines of the Green Bay Packers, there were a number of questions that needed to be answered.

On the offensive line, the biggest question was how would the Packers be able to replace two-time Pro Bowler and two-time (second-team) All-Pro Josh Sitton, who was a surprise cut for the team just before the season began?

Plus, how would JC Tretter do as the starting center, with Corey Linsley on the PUP list?

In addition, the offensive line as a whole did not have a great campaign in 2015, but a lot of that was due to injuries. Everyone of the starters on the line was affected. So, would the group be able to bounce back and play well as a unit if healthy?

The defensive line had a number of questions too. For one thing, nose tackle B.J. Raji surprisingly retired. How would he be replaced?

In addition, Mike Pennel was facing a four-game suspension to start the regular season. How would the Packers overcome losing Pennel over those four games?

Also, first-round draft pick Kenny Clark hurt his back late in the preseason, plus wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire either with his play. Would he be able to play? And if he did, would he play effectively?

The units on both the offensive and defensive lines have answered these questions quite well over four games.

First, let’s look at the offensive line. Lane Taylor has done a very nice job replacing Sitton at left guard. Not only is his run-blocking been good, but his pass-blocking has been effective as well.

Left tackle David Bakhtiari, who was given a contract extension shortly after Sitton was released, is playing the best football of his career. The most notable improvement for Bakhtiari is his run-blocking. No. 69 always had the quick feet to be an excellent pass-blocker against edge-rushers, but now that Bakhtiari is stronger, he can wade off the bull-rushers too.

david-bakhtiari-vs-the-boys

Tretter isn’t as strong as Linsley, but is quicker, especially getting to the next level. All in all, Tretter will probably remain the starter when Linsley comes off the PUP list. It’s a great problem for the Packers to have though, as both are effective starters.

Right guard T.J. Lang played through some shoulder woes in 2015 that affected his play, but is healthy in 2016 and his excellent play shows that. The play of Sitton over the past few years has over-shadowed the play of Lang, but like Sitton, Lang deserves Pro Bowl consideration, as well as All-Pro mention.

Right tackle Bryan Bulaga has always been considered one of the top players at his position since he came into the NFL in 2010. The problem with Bulaga has been staying healthy. Right now, No. 75 is indeed healthy and playing very well.

Pro Football Focus just put out their rankings for the top offensive lines in the NFL so far in 2016, and the offensive line of the Packers is ranked No. 2.

Here is what Pro Football Focus said about the offensive line of the Pack:

Another team with no real weak link along the line, the Packers have had all five starters playing well, especially when it comes to pass protection. The Packers’ line has allowed just 17 total pressures on the season, the best mark in the league (albeit across only three games). They have the second-best pass-blocking efficiency score, trailing only New Orleans, despite Aaron Rodgers ranking among the bottom half of QBs when it comes to the average time it takes to get rid of the football.

In terms of the defensive line, the production has just been outstanding. And also somewhat shocking. In fact, if one was going to rank the various units on the defense of the Packers before the 2016 season, the defensive line would have come in third, behind the defensive backs and linebackers.

Now, four games through the 2016 season, the exact opposite is true.

The Packers are ranked No. 1 in rushing defense in the NFL currently. No other team comes close to how good the Packers have been playing the run. After four games, Green Bay has only allowed an average of 42.8 yards per game.

The next closest team to the Packers in that category, is the New York Jets, who have allowed an average of 68.4 yards per game.

The line has been very stout in stopping the run, especially Mike Daniels, who is having a Pro Bowl and All-Pro season. Daniels has been unblockable at times.

packers-run-defense

Daniels isn’t the only one performing well. The rookie Clark has played much better than he did in the preseason and has shown steady improvement. Veteran Letroy Guion has also played solidly.

Christian Ringo and rookie Dean Lowry have also chipped in at times in stopping the run.

The play of the line has made it much easier for the inside linebackers to get to the hole and the running back. Jake Ryan leads the Packers with 29 tackles, while rookie Blake Martinez is second on the team with 21 tackles.

The ability to stop the run should get even better now that Pennel will be back after serving his four-game suspension.

That will come in handy this upcoming Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field, as the 3-1 Packers take on the 4-1 Dallas Cowboys.

Dallas leads the NFL in rushing, as the Boys average 155.2 yards per game on the ground.

Plus, the Cowboys are not just a running team, as the offense as a whole is second in the NFL in total offense (397 yards per game), as the team is led by rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.

The Cowboys aren’t bad on defense either, as the team is ranked 11th in the NFL in run defense.

It doesn’t help that the Packers have listed both Eddie Lacy (ankle) and James Starks (knee) as questionable for the game on Sunday. It may get to the point where the Packers may need to call up rookie running back Don Jackson from the practice squad for the game on Sunday.

The Packers can also use Ty Montgomery and Randall Cobb at running back if need be.

But the good news for the Packers is that both the offensive and defensive lines are playing exceptional right now. That should bode well for the rest of their units to follow suit.

In the total offense category, the team is ranked just 25th in the league. That should improve, especially in the passing game, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been given more than ample time to scan the field for open receivers.

Rodgers has a solid stat line, as he has thrown nine touchdown passes versus three interceptions, but his passing yardage (876 yards) has not been up to snuff, nor has his passer rating (87.7).

If Rodgers continues to get the protection he has received thus far this season, the improvement in the passing game is sure to follow. Against the New York Giants last Sunday night, Rodgers sometimes had seven or eight seconds to look for open receivers.

As it is, Rodgers has been sacked eight times in four games, which is the eighth-best mark in the league.

The Packers are ranked 12th in the NFL in running the football. Lacy has had a good bounce-back season thus far, after having a disappointing 2015 season. Currently, Lacy has run for 295 yards and has averaged 5.5 yards per carry.

Lacy always seems to run the ball well against the Cowboys, so it would be nice if he could play on Sunday. In two games against the Cowboys in his career, including last season, No. 27 has averaged 132.5 yards per game on the ground and has two touchdowns.

eddie-lacy-vs-the-boys

By the way, Rodgers also plays very well against Dallas. In five games against the Cowboys, Rodgers has thrown seven touchdown passes without a pick and has a passer rating of 100.8.

The defense of the Packers should also continue to improve. Overall, the Packers are ranked ninth in total defense. The line play has been outstanding to be sure, but so has the play of the linebackers, especially outside linebacker Nick Perry.

Perry is off to the best start of his career. No. 53 has 17 tackles, 4.5 sacks and has been very good in stopping the run around the edge.

As a team, the Packers are tied for fifth in the NFL with 14 sacks.

The Packers have had some issues in their secondary so far this season, but a big reason has been the absence of their best cornerback…Sam Shields. Shields suffered a concussion during the opener versus the Jacksonville Jaguars and has not played since. No. 37 will be out again on Sunday against the Cowboys, but is showing steady improvement and should be playing soon.

Demarious Randall has also been hampered by a groin injury and his availability for the Dallas game is still in question. No. 23 missed the game against the Giants last week due to the injury.

But the bottom line is that NFL games are won or lost in the trenches more times than not. And that is why the Packers should feel very good about their football team, as both lines are playing very well up to this point.

A Scout’s Take on the Ohio State vs. Wisconsin B1G Matchup on Saturday Night

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When it comes to playing football games on Saturday nights at Camp Randall Stadium, the Wisconsin Badgers have a pretty nice track record.

For example, one could look back on the classic 1998 contest between Drew Brees and the Purdue Boilermakers versus the Badgers on homecoming at Camp Randall, when Wisconsin outlasted Purdue 31-24. Brees attempted a whopping 83 passes in that game, completing 55 for 494 yards and two touchdowns.

But Brees also had four passes picked off, including one for a pick-six.

The Badgers went on to win the first of back-to-back Big Ten and Rose Bowl titles under head coach Barry Alvarez that season.

Then there was the 2011 night game versus Nebraska, which was the first ever Big Ten game for the Huskers. Wisconsin whipped the Huskers 48-17 that night. Russell Wilson threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns, plus ran for another score. In addition, Montee Ball rushed for 151 yards and four touchdowns.

The Badgers went on to win their second straight Big Ten title under head coach Bret Bielema that year, as well as winning the first ever Big Ten Championship Game.

But the Saturday night games that stir up the most memories were the two times the Badgers met the Ohio State Buckeyes on a Saturday night in Madison.

When the Buckeyes came into Camp Randall in 2003, they were defending national champs and were riding a 19-game winning streak. Ohio State was ranked third in the country, while Wisconsin was ranked 22nd.

With 5:20 remaining in the game, and with the game knotted at 10 apiece, backup quarterback Matt Schabert  threw a 79-yard touchdown pass to Lee Evans, as the Badgers shocked the Buckeyes by winning  17-10.

On Oct. 16, 2010, Ohio State came into Camp Randall on a Saturday night ranked No. 1 in the country. The game got off to a fantastic start for the Badgers, as David Gilreath ran back the opening kickoff for a touchdown.

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David Gilreath

The Badgers never let up, winning the game 31-18. The offense was very sharp, led by then offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. Quarterback Scott Tolzien was 13-of-16 for 152 yards, while John Clay rushed for 104 yards and two touchdowns.

The defense played a big part in the victory as well, as J.J. Watt posted four tackles, three for a loss and two sacks.

The win was the first time the Badgers had defeated the No. 1 team in the country since 1981.

The game also set the stage for a season that would bring the first of three straight Big Ten titles for the Badgers.

That history also sets up a very important game this Saturday night in Madtown, as the No. 2 Buckeyes will face off against the No. 8 Badgers.

This will be the biggest test thus far this season for the 4-1 Badgers, as the 5-0 Buckeyes are loaded with talent.

Ohio State is well-rounded on both sides of the ball, as the Buckeyes are ranked fifth in total offense in the country and fourth in total defense.

On offense, the Bucks are led by quarterback J.T. Barrett, who has thrown 15 touchdown passed versus just three interceptions for 981 yards. Barrett has also rushed for 342 yards and four touchdowns.

The Buckeyes have two additional threats running the football at running back. They are Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel. The two have combined for 976 yards rushing and seven touchdowns.

Samuel is also a threat in the passing game, as he has 23 receptions for 345 yards and three scores. The top two wide receivers for the Buckeyes are Dontre Wilson and Noah Brown. The two have combined for 27 receptions for 354 yards and nine touchdowns.

On defense, the Buckeyes are led by linebacker Raekwon McMillan, who has 33 tackles this season, plus defensive back Malik Hooker, who is having a fabulous season. Hooker already has four interceptions this season to go along with 23 tackles.

When it comes to playing defense, the Badgers don’t have to take a back seat to anyone. Wisconsin is ranked 11th in total defense overall, which includes being ranked fourth in points allowed, as the Badgers only give up 12.2 points per game.

Ohio State is ranked second in that category, as they only give up 10.8 points per game.

The big difference between the two teams in terms of their defensive statistics are concerned, is the fact that Wisconsin has played three top-10 opponents already this season, while the Buckeyes will be facing their first top-10 test this Saturday night.

The Badgers are also ranked sixth in rushing defense in the country, as they only allow an average of 90.4 yards per game on the ground.

The Badger defense is led by their talented group of linebackers. Inside linebacker Jack Cichy leads the team with 35 tackles and 3.5 tackles for a loss, while outside linebacker T.J. Watt has 29 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks. Inside linebacker T.J. Edwards also has 28 tackles this season.

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Outside Linebacker T.J. Watt

The Badgers lost talented outside linebacker Vince Biegel for a few weeks prior to the game against Michigan due to a broken foot. In his absence, Biegel was replaced by Garret Dooley, who had a very solid game against the Wolverines.

The Wisconsin secondary is led by safety Leo Musso, who has 23 tackles and one interception, plus returned a fumble for a 66-yard touchdown against Michigan State.

The offense for the Badgers has had it’s share of issues in terms of production, both running and passing the football.

Quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who is a redshirt freshman, looked very good in his first ever start against Michigan State, but then struggled against Michigan. Hornibrook has thrown four touchdown passes for 455 yards.

The running game is definitely not where it needs to be at this point of the season. The Badgers are just eighth in the Big Ten in rushing at just 161.6 yards per game after two games.

Granted, that was against Michigan State and Michigan on the road.

Tailback Corey Clement leads the Badgers with 329 yards rushing, but is averaging just 3.9 yards per carry and 79.8 yards per game.

The three pass-catching threats for the Badgers are wide receivers Jazz Peavy and Robert Wheelwright, along with tight end Troy Fumagalli. Combined, the three have 51 receptions for 736 yards and two scores.

With a big game like this on the horizon, it’s always a pleasure to get the perspective of NFL scout Chris Landry, who I was able to speak with on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig show on Wednesday .

Landry first talked about what a great atmosphere Camp Randall is during night games for the Badgers.

“It’s a very underrated place [speaking of Camp Randall],” Landry said. “It’s very difficult. People talk about the “Horseshoe” and “The Big House”, but that place is very tough, particularly at night. It’s a tough, tough environment to come out with a win, particularly if the talent level is fairly even.”

camp-randall

Landry then talked about the Wisconsin defense.

“I love their linebackers,” Landry said. “They are playing well defensively, but their linebackers are the key. That keeps them in the game. There is no question. We could see what that Michigan offense could do against most people, but they [Wisconsin] did stay in that game.

“This will be their toughest challenge yet. This Ohio State team is really good. I think they are a step above of where Michigan is. So if Wisconsin, even at home and in that night environment, can keep this close, this will say a whole lot.

“I put my mid-season grades up for college football today, and one of the best coaching jobs has been done by Paul Chryst. And one of the biggest surprises has been Wisconsin. I think they have gotten better and better.

“I think that LSU game was a little bit of fool’s gold. If they line up and play LSU again, I think they would beat LSU more decisively. I don’t think they played all that well when they played LSU, personally.

“But I don’t see them matching up if Ohio State plays their best game. This Ohio State team, the more and more I study it, this Ohio State-Alabama potential matchup would be one for the ages, because these teams are so good.

“But, as Bob said, this is one of those matchups which can be very difficult. Wisconsin, nothing is expected of them. They expect to play hard and play well, but no one expects them to win.

“If it’s close into the fourth quarter and Ohio State gets tight, we’ve seen it happen before. We saw it happen against Virginia Tech a couple of years ago for the Buckeyes. It could happen, but boy, this Ohio State team is at a different level of anyone in the Big Ten.”

I agree with Landry that it would be a monumental upset if the Badgers beat the Buckeyes. Not to mention that the Buckeyes are coached by Urban Meyer, who already has three national titles under his belt as a head coach.

All that being said, if history is a blueprint for the future, at least based on the success that the Badgers have had on Saturday nights at Camp Randall Stadium, especially against Ohio State, an upset is certainly a possibility.

The Packers and Giants Have a Storied History With Each Other

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The Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants will be meeting for the 53rd time in their regular season history on Sunday night at Lambeau Field. Green Bay holds a 27-23-2 advantage over the G-Men in a series that began back in 1928.

The Packers and Giants have also played in the postseason seven times, with the Pack again holding the advantage with 4-3 edge over New York.

The Packers have also played seven postseason games against the Dallas Cowboys (3-4) and the San Francisco 49ers (4-3), which is the most times that the Packers have met teams in the playoffs.

In the preseason, the Packers and Giants have met on 30 occasions, which is also the most times the Packers have played an opponent in the exhibition season. The Pack leads that series 19-9-2.

When the Packers and Giants met back in 1928, Green Bay played it’s home games at old City Stadium, while New York played their home games at the Polo Grounds.

The Packers never played a postseason game at old City Stadium (1925-1956), while they did play in three NFL title games at the Polo Grounds when Curly Lambeau was head coach.

The first one was in 1936 against the then Boston Redskins, which was a year before the team moved to Washington.

Owner George Preston Marshall of the Redskins was not happy with the support the team was receiving in Boston. Because of that, Marshall decided to host the NFL title game in New York at the Polo Grounds, instead of Fenway Park, where the Redskins played their home games.

The title game in the Big Apple drew 29,545 fans.

The Packers won that championship game 21-6, mostly because of the passing of Arnie Herber. The Packers had twice as many passing yards in the game, compared to the Redskins.

In 1938, the Packers played in the NFL title game again in the Polo Grounds, but this time against the Giants.

Before this title game, the Packers had lost to the Giants 15-3 in the last game of the regular season, also at the Polo Grounds.

The 1938 NFL Championship Game was much closer, as Herber threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Carl Mulleneaux and Clarke Hinkle scored on a one-yard run.

The Giants won the game 23-17 behind two blocked punts and the play of Ed Danowski, who threw two touchdown passes.

The attendance for the title game was 48,120.

In 1939, the Packers and Giants met again to see who would win the NFL championship. But this time the game was in Wisconsin. But instead of old City Stadium in Green Bay, the game was played in West Allis (just outside of Milwaukee) at State Fair Park.

That title game drew 32,279 attendees, which included my dad and grandfather.

The Packers dominated the game after getting off to a slow start.  The Giants blocked a punt and had two interceptions early in the game, but missed three field goals and also had one of their passes picked off near the Green Bay goal line.

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Cecil Isbell carries the ball for the Packers in the 1939 NFL title game

Herber threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to Milt Gantenbein in the the first quarter (the only score of the first half) and Cecil Isbell also threw a touchdown pass in the second half to Joe Laws.  Also, Ed Jankowski scored on a one-yard run.  The Packers added a couple of field goals in their 27-0 victory over the Giants.

The Green Bay defense was outstanding in the game, as they held the Giants to 164 total yards, plus picked off six passes.

In 1944, the Packers and Giants would meet once again in the NFL title game, this time at the Polo Grounds. The attendance was 46,016.

The two teams met in the regular season that year, when New York shut out Green Bay 24-0 in the second to the last game of the schedule.

The Packers played much better in the postseason, especially on defense, as the former Packer Herber threw four interceptions for the Giants, with Laws picking off three of them.

The Packers scored two touchdowns in the second quarter on runs by Ted Fritsch, and the Packers won the contest 14-7.

The next time the two teams met for the NFL title was 17 years later. The game was played at new City Stadium (now Lambeau Field) in Green Bay.  This was the first playoff game ever played in Green Bay.  The attendance was 39,029.

Head coach Vince Lombardi had to pull some strings to get halfback Paul Hornung a leave from the Army to play in this game.  Lombardi personally called President John F. Kennedy to make sure that Hornung would be able to play.

Why was Hornung in the Army?

The Army activated him due to the escalation of the Cold War and the building of the wall in Berlin by the Soviets. In October of 1961, the Department of Defense had activated thousands of military reservists and national guardsmen for duty, including a couple dozen players from the NFL and three very important Packers players (Hornung, Boyd Dowler and Ray Nitschke).

As noted in David Maraniss’ book When Pride Still Mattered, Lombardi was very upset by this situation.  He mentioned that the Packers were hit harder than anyone in the NFL because of the scenario.

This is when the relationship between Lombardi and Kennedy helped make Hornung available for the title game.  Lombardi was a big JFK supporter during the 1960 Presidential election.  They became friends over time.  The Packers won two NFL championships while JFK was in the White House as well.

Initially, Hornung was not granted access to go back to the Packers for the championship game.  That would have been a HUGE blow as Hornung was the NFL MVP in 1961.

Lombardi was concerned about that situation, so he placed a call to JFK to see if the President would get Hornung a pass to join the team for the big game.  Sure enough, Hornung received permission.

“Paul Hornung isn’t going to win the war on Sunday, but the football fans of this country deserve the two best teams on the field that day,” Kennedy told Lombardi a few days before the championship game against the Giants.

The Packers beat the Giants 37-0 in that game, and Hornung scored 19 points in that game just by himself.

Titletown was born that year, as local merchants coined the community nickname—Titletown USA—to describe the spirit of the little town that could.

The Packers and Giants met again the very next year for the 1962 NFL title. This time the game was played at storied Yankee Stadium. The attendance was 64,892.

Guard Jerry Kramer of the Packers played an important role in that title game.

Jerry after the game-winning kick in the '62 championship game

No. 64 was very excited to play in this game, as he did not play in the 1961 NFL title game due to a broken ankle.

The 1962 NFL title game figured to be a much tougher test against the Giants, who wanted to show their fans in New York that the game the year before was an aberration.

Kramer definitely soaked in the fantastic history of Yankee Stadium before the game began.

“Yankee Stadium was an awesome experience,” Kramer said.  “Especially for a kid from Idaho.  Just to walk into that place where you had heard fights broadcast from, where so many World Series games were played, plus to see all the statues out in center field of Gehrig, Ruth and DiMaggio.  The experience was just awesome.”

Yankee Stadium was also a homecoming for Lombardi, as he was a New York City native and was an assistant coach for the Giants from 1954-1958.

“We knew how badly coach Lombardi wanted to win that ball game,” Kramer said.  “And we knew the Giants had been embarrassed the year before in Green Bay.  We knew the Giants were going to be loaded for bear that day.  But we also knew coach Lombardi desperately wanted a victory, and so we wanted to win for him and much as ourselves.”

Besides playing right guard for the Packers that day, Kramer was also the placekicker for the Packers as well, after Hornung hurt his knee early in the 1962 season.  Kramer had been Horning’s backup at kicker since his rookie year in 1958.

The weather would not be an ally for Kramer that day while he was kicking, as the wind was gusting at up to 40 miles per hour at times.  The temperature was 13 degrees, but it seemed much colder due to the wind.

Were the conditions at the 1962 NFL title game comparable to the Ice Bowl?

“You know, they were very similar, ” Kramer said.  “Vince Lombardi Jr. and I were talking about it years later, and Vince Jr. thought the Giants game was colder than the Ice Bowl.  Vince Jr. was at both games, too.  It was just a bitter cold day.  The wind was sharp and biting.”

Because of the weather conditions, the game was mostly going to be won via the ground game and because of turnovers.  The Packers rushed for 148 yards in the game, with fullback Jim Taylor getting 85 of those yards.  Taylor also scored the only touchdown of the game for the Packers.

Kramer was three for five in field goals that windy day.  “The wind was circling in the stadium that day,” Kramer said.  “When I made my last field goal, I aimed maybe eight to 10 yards outside the goal posts.  The wind ended up bringing my kick into the center of the goal posts.  It was one of the very few times I had to play the wind that way.”

Kramer scored 10 of the 16 points the Packers scored vs. the Giants.  When he made that last field goal, the Packers now had a nine-point lead late in the game.

“It was a hell of a moment,” Kramer reflected.  “It put the game out of reach, as they would have to score twice to beat us.  It was probably the most excited I had ever been in a contest, and the guys were pounding me on the back.  I experienced a Bart Starr-like moment, of having everyone applaud me and congratulate me.”

The Packers won 16-7 that day at Yankee Stadium.  Taylor had a big day rushing, and Ray Nitschke was named MVP of the game for his two fumble recoveries and a pass deflection that was intercepted by Dan Currie.

But Kramer had a big day as well.  In fact, Kramer received the game ball from his team for his efforts.

“It was a huge moment and a wonderful experience,” Kramer said.  “The big thing was they you were able to come through.  You met the test and were able to get the job done.  And also not let the team down.”

The Packers and Giants have played twice in the postseason over the past decade and both games were played at Lambeau Field.

The first one was in the 2007 NFC Championship Game, which was played at under frigid conditions, where 72,740 were on hand to watch the game at Lambeau.

The game time temperature was minus-one.  That Ice Bowl-type weather didn’t seem to bother the Giants too much.  The Giants had 24 first downs, while the Packers only had 13.  The Giants time of possession was 40:03, compared to the Packers 22:34.  The Giants had 134 rushing yards, compared to the Packers’ 28.

Quarterback Eli Manning didn’t throw any interceptions, while Brett Favre threw two picks, including a very costly one in overtime.  Favre threw for 236 yards passing, but 90 yards of that came on one touchdown pass to Donald Driver.

donald-driver-vs-the-giants

The Packers defense also allowed the Giants to come back from deficits twice.  The Packers led 10-6 at halftime, only to see the Giants regain the lead 13-10.  After the Packers took the lead again at 17-13, the Packers allowed the Giants to go ahead again, 20-17.

The Packers ended up tying the game and the contest went to overtime. Then Favre’s interception set up the game-winning 47-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes of the Giants as New York won 23-20.

The Packers and Giants also met in a 2011 NFC Divisional Playoff game, which is the only time the two teams did not meet in a title game in their seven postseason games with one another.

The Packers finished the 2011 season with a 15-1 record and had high hopes heading into the postseason.  After all, the Pack had secured home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs and the team was the odds-on favorite to win a second consecutive Vince Lombardi Trophy.

However, all of that went down with a resounding thud, as the Packers were beaten by the Giants 37-20 at Lambeau Field in shocking fashion.

There were several reasons for why the Packers lost the game vs. the G-Men.  Among them were a lack of focus, four key turnovers, eight dropped passes, giving up big plays at critical times and also the fact that Aaron Rodgers did not play like Superman as he had done almost all of the 2011 regular season when he was the NFL MVP.

Manning was clutch again versus the Packers, as he threw three touchdown passes, plus was able to convert several 3rd and long situations.

This Sunday night, Manning gets another shot at the Packers, as he is 4-3 versus Green Bay in his career, which includes the two postseason wins at Lambeau. Both of those wins later led to Super Bowl triumphs by the G-Men.

When you talk about the Packers-Giants series, you have to talk about the coaching dynamics. As mentioned, earlier Lombardi was assistant coach (offense) with the Giants from 1954 to 1958 under Jim Lee Howell.

The Giants won the NFL title in 1956.  Lombardi was also very good friends with Giants owner Wellington Mara from their college days at Fordham.

After Lombardi went on to Green Bay and had the Packers in the NFL championship game in 1960 in just his second year, the Giants and Mara tried to get him back as their next head coach.  But Dominic Olejniczak, the president of the Packers at the time, refused to let Lombardi leave.

Good thing, too, as the Packers ended up winning five NFL championships in seven years, including three straight titles from 1965-1967.  The Packers also won the first two Super Bowls under Lombardi.

The two head coaches (Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo) who Manning has played under, both had assistant coaching jobs with the Packers.

Coughlin coached under Forrest Gregg in 1986-87 when he was the receivers/passing game coach.

McAdoo coached tight ends and quarterbacks under Mike McCarthy from 2006 through 2013.

Bottom line, there has been a rich history between the Packers and Giants. Not only that, but both franchises also have storied histories in the NFL.

The Packers have won 13 NFL titles, which is more than any other team in NFL history. The Giants are third in NFL history with eight NFL titles.

The Packers Have Fared Well After the Bye Week Under Mike McCarthy

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Since Mike McCarthy became head coach of the Green Bay Packers in 2006, the team has had an 8-2 record following the bye week.

The Packers didn’t have much good fortune last year following the bye week, as they went into Denver to face the Broncos with a perfect 6-0 record. The Broncos totally dominated the Packers 29-10 in a game which was played on a Sunday night on national television.

The Packers only had 140 total yards, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked three times and hit a lot more often than that. No. 12 only had 77 yards passing in the game as he seemed to be running for his life on every passing play.

This year, the 2-1 Packers will also be playing on a Sunday night following their bye week. This time the opponent will be the 2-2 New York Giants, plus the game will be at Lambeau Field. The G-Men have been hampered by injuries on both sides of the ball and lost on the road Monday night to the 4-0 Minnesota Vikings, who lead the NFC North.

Under McCarthy, the Packers have never lost a home game following the bye week. That being said, the Giants behind quarterback Eli Manning, have won three straight games versus the Packers, which includes winning the 2011 NFC Divisional Playoff Game 37-20 at Lambeau.

The Packers came into that game with a 15-1 record, but Manning threw three touchdown passes to lead New York to victory. The G-Men went on to win Super Bowl XLVI later that postseason against the New England Patriots.

That was the second time Manning and the Giants upset the Packers in the postseason at Lambeau Field. The first time was the 2007 NFC Championship Game, when New York won in overtime 23-20. Like they did in 2011, Manning and the Giants also won the Super Bowl later that postseason, also against the Pats, who were undefeated at the time.

This is the history that the Packers will be up against when they face the Giants next Sunday night at Lambeau.

Even though the Packers are 2-1 and are coming off a 34-27 win against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau in Week 3, the Packers seemed to sleep-walk through the second half of that game and almost let the Lions back in the game after holding a 31-10 lead at the half.

The good news in that game was that Rodgers had his first over-100 passer rating (129.3) in 15 games, as he threw four touchdown passes without a pick.

Still, there are issues for the Packers on both sides of the ball, especially in pass coverage on defense. That is never a good thing when one is facing Manning and his talented receiving corp, even with Odell Beckham Jr. struggling somewhat.

On offense, the Packers are still only ranked 29th (293.7 yards per game) in the NFL, even after their output against Detroit. That includes being ranked 29th (193.3 yards per game) in passing offense and 16th (100.3 yards per game) in rushing offense.

The Giants meanwhile are ranked sixth (382.2 yards per game) in total offense. That includes being ranked fourth (288.5 yards per game) in passing offense and 19th (93.8 yards per game) in rushing offense.

On defense, the Packers lead the NFL in stopping the run, as they have only allowed 42.7 yards per game. But Green Bay’s total defense ranking is only 13th (350 yards per game) because of the issues the team is having in stopping the pass.

Currently, the Packers are ranked 29th in passing defense, as they have allowed over 300 yards per game, plus have allowed six touchdown passes. Overall, the opposing quarterbacks have had a passer rating of 105.3.

When one looks back over the first three games of this season defensively, compared to expectations going into the 2016 campaign, it’s almost as if Rod Serling has written this script.

The Packers were expected to struggle somewhat on the defensive line and excel in the secondary this season. But the opposite has happened, at least through three games.

Part of the reason the secondary has struggled has been the absence of cornerback Sam Shields for two games due to a concussion. Shields is still in concussion protocol and his status for the game against the Giants is uncertain.

The Packers will be facing a tough New York defense that has also had to overcome injuries in their secondary, as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie didn’t play against the Vikings due to a groin injury.

The G-Men are ranked 11th (346.2 yards per game) in total defense, which includes being ranked ninth (84 yards per game) in rushing defense and 18th 262.2 yards per game) in passing defense.

For the Packers to have success against that defense, the Packers have to continue to protect Rodgers in the passing game and also be productive in the running game.

The Giants have just four sacks in four games, but are tough to run against. Running back Eddie Lacy is off to a great start in 2016, as he has rushed for 214 yards in three games (71.3 average), plus has a 5.0 rushing average per carry.

Rodgers is having another fabulous season in terms of his touchdown passes vs. interceptions ratio. No. 12 has thrown seven touchdown passes compared to just one pick.

But even with those great stats, the passing yardage has been somewhat minimal, as Rodgers has thrown for just 617 yards. The passer rating for Rodgers this season now stands at 98.6.

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Manning on the other hand, has been struggling. No. 10 has thrown four touchdown passes, but has also thrown four interceptions for 1,186 yards overall. The passer rating for Manning currently sits at 87.8.

But before Packer Nation gets too comfortable about expectations regarding the game on Sunday night versus the Giants, know that Manning has sort of been kryptonite to the Packers when he plays them.

Yes, the Packers have beaten Manning three times when they have faced him in his career, but he has also beaten Green Bay four times, including two postseason games at Lambeau Field.

Rodgers and the Packers did beat Manning and the Giants 45-17 at Lambeau late in the 2010 season, which was a game the Packers needed to have to keep their playoff hopes alive for that season.

The Packers went on to win five straight games after that victory against the Giants, which included a 31-26 win in Super Bowl XLV over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ironically, the Giants now essentially use the same offensive system the Packers use under head coach Ben McAdoo. McAdoo coached tight ends and quarterbacks under McCarthy from 2006 through 2013.

Bottom line, even with their success at home after a bye week under McCarthy, the Packers still have a lot of details to improve upon, both offensively and defensively.

In addition to that, the Packers will be facing an opponent in Manning who has been victorious at Lambeau Field when it was truly win or go home.